Since 2 October 2000, the Employment Relations Act 2000 (the Act) has provided the legal foundations for managing employee relations right across New Zealand. From providing a structure of negotiating collective agreements to defining an employee, the Act covers the basic elements of employment and the legal protections and obligations of both employers and employees. The Act also outlines the penalties you, as an employer, or employees can face for breaching any of the obligations in the Act.
At its core, the Act aims to ensure a positive employment relationship by incorporating good faith in every component of the employment environment. The Act does this firstly by recognising that not only is good faith legislated, in this Act itself, but depends heavily on trust between you and your employees. The Act also promotes collective bargaining, addresses the impact of power in the employment relationship, and aims to reduce the need for the Courts by encouraging mediation to try and resolve any problems.
There is also a strong push for positive employment relationships through the enforcement of employment standards by giving power to Labour Inspectors, the Employment Relations Authority and the Courts, as well as promoting the principles in various international agreements.
Fortunately for employers, the Act clearly outlines expected behaviours which constitute good faith. Put simply, it is more than just keeping trust and confidence between employees and employers, it requires both parties to be active in maintaining a productive employment relationship. This is important for employers as it puts the maintenance of a healthy employment relationship on both parties not simply employers or managers.
Good faith between you and your employees is based on three founding principles:
• not being deceptive or trying to mislead
• being responsive and continuing to communicate
• providing all the information possible where an employee is potentially losing their job, so both parties are clear and an employee can comment on the change
These three principles may sound like great ideas for managing employees but what this actually looks like can be difficult to grasp. Not being deceptive can include revealing the true reasons an employee is facing disciplinary action and not acting with hidden motives. Being responsive and communicating appropriately can be raising concerns at the time they actually become clear and not disciplining an employee 12 months later, or responding to concerns in a timely manner. The final point in good faith is probably the most straight forward; ultimately if an employee might lose their job based on a decision you are going to make, it is best to give them access to information about the decision and a chance to comment on it.
The Employment Relations Act 2000 makes it legal for employees to make a choice on their involvement, or lack of involvement, in a union. Which translates into the fact that a contract, or an employment agreement, cannot require anyone to be or not be a member of a union nor can it treat any employee different based on their union involvement.
Not only is it important for you to manage your employees in line with the rules around union membership, but being aware of the rights of a union to access the workplace is also important. Outlined in the Act is the ability for unions to enter a workplace if they believe a member of their union works there, in which case they can enter for reasons relating to workplace arrangements such as collective bargaining, or if they believe there are employees who may be covered by their union in the workplace. In either instance,union representatives can speak with employees for what is referred to as a reasonable amount of time, and there can be no deduction of the employee’s pay for the length of the discussion.
A union representative wanting to enter a workplace must do so at a time that is reasonable when an employee is there to work, but must ask the employer first. Once a union asks to enter your workplace, you cannot unreasonably say no, and must respond on the next working day. If you say no, you must give reasons. Failing to give reasons will result in a fine from the Employment Relations Authority, so be sure to give reasons in writing and on time if you refuse. Alternatively, if you do not respond to the union within two working days, this is viewed as a yes and the union is entitled to enter the workplace.
The Employment Relations Act 2000 has been through minor amendments over the years and can be changed with far-reaching impact. Staying up to date with all of these changes, as well as understanding the basics, can be difficult. For advice call Employsure on 0800 675 700 day or night.